Every day, the Chicago Dental Society and the Illinois State Dental Society receive calls from patients asking about the legal responsibility of the dentist to give a patient or another dentist a copy of the patient's dental records.
"Most patients automatically assume that since the records are about them, they own them, but according to attorneys in the field, this is not correct," says Christos Pappas, D.D.S., manager of the CDS Department of Peer Review and Mediation. "The records are owned by the dentist because they document the services he or she has performed for the patient and must be kept for 10 years. However, the patient does have access to the records and can get copies."
The Illinois Dental Practice Act states that "dental records ... or copies of those dental records, shall be made available upon request to the patient or the patient's guardian, provided that the reasonable cost of reproducing the records has been paid by the patient or the patient's guardian. Dr. Pappas answers some common questions.
What is a reasonable cost?
"Reasonable costs would include the actual cost of duplication, plus staff time used to make the copies and other administrative costs for postage, stationary, etc.," says Dr. Pappas. "The patient should inquire about an estimated cost from their dentist so there are no surprises. Making a copy of patient records is not always inexpensive."
Can a dentist withhold records until an outstanding balance is paid?
"No, these are two separate issues," says Dr. Pappas. "However, the dentist can choose not to release the copied records if the patient refuses to pay for them."
Who do I complain to if a doctor will not release the records?
"Patients can call the Department of Professional Regulation's Investigation Unit at (312) 814-4500," says Dr. Pappas. "They can investigate and will enforce the Illinois Dental Practice Act."
What about X-rays?
"X-rays are part of the dental record and can be copied," he says. "X-rays are useful for reference purposes, as are diagnostic models. However, this is where the cost of the record increases because X-rays and models cost more to duplicate. If a patient's X-rays are several years old, the dentist may advise foregoing duplication in favor of getting new X-rays."
Can a dentist send the records directly to a dentist's office if requested to do so by the patient?
"Yes, as long as the dentist has a release from the patient," he says. "The patient should state in writing the request for record transfer and should include the proper address. An alternative is to personally pick up the records."
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